Thursday, January 31, 2013

Redemption Pie

So after my massive fail in baking and pastry yesterday, I was determined to set it off on Pie Day! I can't mess up a pie! Sure...I typically pick up the crust from the freezer section and don't have to accomplish 10 other things in a lab of 20 people...but I can do this! 1st I tackled pecan pie...pretty good. I let it stay in the oven a little too long, but the filling was on point. "Great flavor and consistency throughout." Next, I moved onto a pumpkin pecan pie. I flavored it with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves...that combo helped to get me a 9.5 out of 10 for pie day!..I call it Redemption Pie...ok, that's lame. Perhaps, I can earn that 'A' yet ;-)


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Challah Bread...8 out of 10

Man, this Intro to Baking class is tough!  Not sure if I'm just an overachiever or I just don't get challenged enough, but I have been getting so many B's in this class...I don't get B's!  Take this Challah bread.  I was so focused on rolling out my 16 inch strands, sculpting the perfect braid, not being stingy with the egg wash...but not over egg washing and what is the result?  Some really ugly Challah bread.  I see where the opportunities are...I have to work to get those air bubbles out of my dough and making sure the strands are even throughout. 

Before proofing

After proofing...see those bulges and uneven widths in the dough? Now, I'm nervous! 

Of course this is the day our chef instructor decides to grade our bread.  I just got the Kaiser roll...well kinda.  Maybe I'm not delicate enough for baking and pastry.  I might have to pull a rabbit out the hat to earn this A...geez :-/


Tuesday, January 29, 2013


We tackled croissants in my Intro to Baking class.  Like most things in the culinary world, it just requires some understanding of why you are doing what you are doing and some patience.  For example, keep the butter cold so that you can fully develop those buttery layers.  We had a pretty packed agenda, so the time required to wait after each fold was consumed with creating fillings, making brioche, making wheat rolls for freshman dining room...busy!  I opted to fill my croissants with almond filling and top them with sliced almonds and raw sugar.  They were really tasty, but I needed to use less filling to prevent it from oozing out.  I rolled my dough out fairly thin.  The small croissants didn't hold the filling too well. Lesson learned.  I have some more almond filling to play with.  If we have a lull in production (ha!), maybe I've give it another shot.  Almond paste is awesome!


Friday, January 25, 2013

S&D Culinary Challenge

So, today I competed in the semi-final round of the S&D Culinary Challenge.  The challenge required us to create a recipe using S&D coffee or tea extract.  I used both in my Espresso Toffee Crunch Doughnuts with Black Tea Latte Filling.  What is it...Murphy's Law that if something can go wrong it will?  Well, today for the first time ever I could not get my yeast to plump up the dough.  I've been experimenting with yeast doughnuts for weeks and have never encountered this.  Things worked out at the end.  It was probably more fritter batter than actual doughnut, but who doesn't like fritters?  Everyone seemed to enjoy the texture.  I was able to work any grainy bits from the powdered sugar, so that was a good thing.  Whether moving to the finals or not, I think I will continue to tweak the sweetness.  "Cloyingly sweet" is not what I was working towards!  :-/  Finalists will be announced on Monday.  I tell you one thing, it's a great excuse to continue eating loads of doughnuts!  Check out pics at S&D's Facebook pages:  While you're there, throw a LIKE my way for the S&D Culinary Challenge-Fan's Favorite Award...Ashley's got bills, ya'll!..ha!


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Failing Efficiently

Today, Johnson & Wales University-Charlotte welcomed Chef Chris Young to speak to culinary students and faculty.  Pretty cool talk.  His Delve culinary research group is really doing some new and interesting things in the world of culinary arts.  One thing I took away from the lecture was the idea of failing efficiently.  That is what he mentioned was the key to his group's successful innovation initiatives.  The idea is that if you're not failing, you're not challenging yourself enough and that you're not doing anything new at all.  I'm taking this a step further and applying it to my everyday life.  I don't want to do ordinary things in life, like stay with a company for 30 years hoping that through hard work one day my time will come.  I want to be the driver of my success and not rely solely on others for me to thrive.  I'm going to compete in culinary competitions.  I'm going to venture to strange places.  I'm going to be an entrepreneur.  So what if I encounter any failures along the way.  I'll overcome them and emerge even stronger.  Failing is simply the price of success.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I feel like I accomplished a bunch of things today. However, my to-do list is no shorter. With culinary school ending for me in the next few months, I know I need to focus on my return to adulthood. A part-time job or staging opportunity should be my priority. I know it's best to hit the streets to make some contacts, but there just doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. Life just seems to fly by. I've got to get my priorities in order.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Potato Gnocchi in Burnt Butter Sauce

So after completing my practical in Traditional European Cuisine, I was determined to make some potato gnocchi.  It's so easy...pasta without all the fuss! 

I started by scooping out the flesh of 2 large all-purpose potatoes that I roasted off in the oven.  Russets are probably the better choice, but that's all I had at the moment. 

I sent my potato through a ricer for a smoother consistency.  Once finished, I placed it all in a bowl and formed a well, or hole, in middle of the potato just as you would with pasta.  I sprinkled about a half cup of salted flour over the top and added 1 uncooked, scrambled egg and 2 tablespoons of water to my well.  I slowly worked everything together with a fork.  Once it became too difficult to maneuver with a fork, I started working the dough with my hands until well incorporated.  I divided the dough in two so it was easier to work with.  I formed 1 inch wide strips.  I was then able to cut them into 3/4 inch pieces. 

I played around with forming the gnocchi with my fingers and with a fork.  Both went pretty fast. 

The gnocchi only takes a minute or so to cook in boiling water.  They'll float when they're done.

So, I was having so much fun playing in dough that I completely forgot about a sauce.  Luckily, I remembered that my chef instructor mentioned a burnt butter sauce that went well with pasta, so I went to work!

I heated about 4 ounces of butter in a saute pan.  I let the butter heat up just until it started to brown.  The browned butter takes on a slightly nutty taste.  I sprinkled some salt and pepper in the butter right before adding my cooked gnocchi.  I let it go for a little over a minute to make sure all the gnocchi made contact with the butter and get a little color.  I moved it all to a serving platter and sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and parsley...simple ;-)


Braised Beans with Duck Quarters

So, I tackled this recipe in my Traditional European Cuisine lab...we call it TEC.  It's not too difficult.  It just takes some time.  The ham hock gives the dish some great flavor.  Give it a try, and let me know what you think!
Here's what you'll need:
1 1/2 pounds dried white beans
1 smoked ham hock
1 bay leaf
4 duck leg quarters, thigh bone removed
Salt and Pepper to taste
Flour to dredge
Olive oil to sear...not Extra Virgin Olive Oil!
1 cup onion, small dice
1 cup carrot, small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 cup of white wine
1 ounce of vinegar, white vinegar is fine

I ended up having to do a quick soak of the beans which involved bringing about 2 quarts of water to a boil with the beans.  Once a boil was achieved, I covered the pot and allowed the water and beans to sit for an hour. Ideally, the beans would have soaked overnight to ensure they were ready to go, but you just have to work with what you've got sometimes! 
Discard the soaking liquid when done...just trust me.  Add 2 quarts of cold water to the beans with a smoked ham hock and bay leaf.  Allow the water to come to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about thirty minutes.

In the meantime, season the duck with salt and pepper before dredging in flour.  Dredging allowed me to get a good initial sear on the duck.

Hold the duck in a warm spot.  If you don't have the luxury of a steam table, a 200 degree oven will do.  In the same pan used to sear the duck, add the onions and carrots to the pot. Give them a good stir for a couple of minutes being sure to release some of the brown bits, or fond, from the pan. 

Next, add the garlic, cloves, and bay leaf.  Give it a quick stir just to release some flavor ensuring that the garlic does not burn.  Deglaze the pan with white wine.
Place your duck back in the pot with the softened beans and ham hock.  Add enough of the broth from the beans and ham hock to just cover the duck.

Cover the broth with a cartouche of parchment.  A cartouche is not hard to make.  You can trace out the pan on a piece of parchment paper and simply cut it out.  Another option involves taking a piece of parchment paper that you know is larger than your pot, folding it in half, and continuing to fold it so that the corners meet, leaving a point in the center...think of the spokes of a bike wheel!  Cut off any excess, so it lays over the broth.  You may be tempted to skip this step, but it helps to reduce evaporation of the broth, keep all ingredients submerged, and prevent undesireable skin from forming on the top of the broth.

Next, cover the pot with a lid. If you don't have a lid for your pot, like me, foil will do. 

Finish cooking the beans and duck in the oven until the beans have cooked through and the duck is fork tender.
Once the appropriate doneness is achieved, adjust the seasoning of the dish with salt and pepper.  Try to fetch out the bay leaf if you can.  They often end up on the side of the pot.  Now, remove the duck from the broth.  Place it in a pan and broil to crisp up the skin.  Watch it closely, so the skin doesn't burn.

Stir in the vinegar just before the dish is to be served.  You can remove the duck from the bones and place it on a platter with the beans for a family-style service or cut portions of the quarters into legs and thighs to serve on individual plates.  Try to savage some of the meat from the ham hock.  It's okay if there isn't enough to plate.  It makes a great snack!  I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.  Add some sauteed greens for a great meal!

Thanks to Chef Batten for all of your guidance!